Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mast Brothers Chocolate Tour

It's a phenomena that Mondays are commonly disliked by many people. However, what a great Monday it is knowing you'll be going on a chocolate factory tour later that day.

On Monday, September, 20th, a bunch of FCI Culinary and Pastry students, including me, went on a field trip to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I was highly anticipating this FCI club event, as I am a huge fan of Mast Brothers Chocolate, which was our destination.

at Mast Brothers Chocolate with other FCI students

Since early 2009, Mast Brothers Chocolate's factory and shop has been located on North 3rd Street between Berry and Whythe Avenues. And this is the place where Rick and Michael Mast and their team make the magic happen. The two brothers made chocolate and experimented (they even tried brewing beer) in their kitchen for five years.

Rick Mast showing a picture of a harvested cocoa pod

Rick Mast has a culinary background and was working with Jacques Torres, where he learned how chocolate was made for large production, before turning to his own chocolate making with his brother. His goal with Mast Brothers is to focus on making each product instead of producing large quantities.

photos above: Mast Brothers factory (last photo shows conching machine)

In the shop, and sometimes even into the street, the slightly acidic chocolate smell is omnipresent. The interior of the shop and the look of the brothers themselves appear to be out of a different century, which I happen to appreciate and adore. There's the counter with the precious chocolate bars under glass and bedded on cocoa beans, then there's an old table and chairs in one corner, piled up bags of cocoa beans, plenty of vintage globes on the shelves, and, not to forget, an old sailboat model resting on the counter. The factory is viewable from behind a glass that runs between the shop and the production space, and you can also see the large table where the cocoa beans are sorted and where the finished chocolate bars get wrapped.

bags of cocoa beans among our group in the shop

Our tour started with a little introduction on how Mast Brothers came into existence, followed by an overview on where Mast Brothers purchases their beans, which are all fair trade and organic. A picture of a cocoa tree was passed around, and we looked at a cocoa pod that had been dried in the factory. Rick underlines that the process of making chocolate can be done at home. And I guess that is what they want to show at the factory as well. There are machines for the entire small batch production process. And this is where my interest in Mast Brothers lies: I just like start-to-finish production places. Anyway, I guess the recent video on sums up the manufacturing of chocolate at Mast Brothers better than I can.

blocks of untempered chocolate

packaged baking chocolate

After seeing the tempering room at the factory, we headed back to the shop for a chocolate tasting of four different bars. Each bar was made from different beans grown in different locations: Madagascar, The Dominican Republic, and Venezuela to name a few. There are three types of beans: forastero, trinitario, and criollo (which is the most rare and expensive bean). The chocolate made out of criollo beans were the best and most aromatic chocolate I have ever eaten. However, maybe I could only tell because we tasted and compared different chocolates knowing where each came from and what their special features are.

chocolate tasting

We broke the piece of chocolate we were tasting into pieces, so we could smell it and take small bites, letting the pieces melt on our tongues to get our palates ready for the whole piece to follow. I was surprised that I could actually taste the differences among the chocolates. Thanks goodness for surprises!

Jenny Kaschell is currently attending the Classic Pastry Arts program at The French Culinary Institute. Originally from Berlin, Jenny used all her time and willpower to convince her parents to lend her money for an education in New York City. She will be graduating in November.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Whole Hog

From left: chef Nils Noré, Dave Arnold, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, chef Zach Allen, and chef
Cesare Casella at the International Pig Roast Hosted by Dorothy Cann Hamilton. Getty Images

On Saturday, September 25th, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of the International Culinary Center, hosted a pig roast at her home in Connecticut. This was an international affair, with the pig divvied up and prepared three ways. Famed pit master Ed Mitchell (and Executive Chef at The Pit in Raleigh, North Carolina) turned out down-home American-style barbecue, while Cesare Casella, dean of the Italian Culinary Academy, prepared an Italian-style roast, and a group of chefs from The French Culinary Institute collaborated on a French presentation for guests to choose from. The all-day event was filled with music, fun, and lots of good eating!

Read more about the pig roast on Eatocracy at

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hitting the Pavement

Students waiting in line to visit with potential employers.

If I made a list of the things I liked about my grad program over my undergrad program, job placement would be near the top of the list. Now, in all fairness, I should mention that my undergraduate degree was a very amorphous program in the liberal arts, but still, my wonderful adviser at my oh-so-slightly-less-liberal-artsy grad program was on the ball. Within my first week at school, we had gone over what my career goals were, how that fit in with my class schedule, and internship possibilities that were best suited to me. From there on I received all the help I needed throughout the program to get myself out of school and into a good job.

I must admit I love school mostly because I love the act of learning for learning's sake. If I was more career minded, I probably would have gone into accounting over humanities. However, at the end of the day, a job is the point of most schooling, right? So, having a school that can take your fabulous education you spent your hard-earned money on and help you turn it into a career path that suits you is priceless.

This is something I find Career Services does very well at The FCI. I have know of staff members to work for months with a student until the student was able to find and land the right job. Not only does the school have connections to some of the best kitchens in the city (and food editorial desks for that matter), they also have a loyal alum base who have grown in their careers and come back looking for new graduates to fill jobs and externships with their companies.

And twice a year, Career Services holds a Career Fair, where potential employers come to meet students. I myself get excited walking through the fair. Career Services does an excellent job. They set up workshops and one-on-one sessions to help students bring their résumés and interviewing skills up to snuff, and they bring in a variety of great employers for students to meet. Here's a short list, so you can see what I mean:

21 Club
Abigail Kirsch/Pier Sixty
Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group
Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
The Breslin Bar and Dinning Room
The Burke Group
Club Med
Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges
dbdk Productions and Catering
The Dinex Group of Chef Daniel Boulud
Food Arts
Four Seasons Hotel
Hillstone Restaurant Group
Hilton Woodcliff Lake Hotel
Indiana Market and Catering
The James Beard Foundation
José Andrés' ThinkFood Group
Le Pain Quotidien
Liddabit Sweets
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
Mercer Kitchen
Momofuku Milk Bar
Murray's Cheese
Nobu 57
Park Avenue
Patina Restaurant Group
Pies 'N' Thighs
Pulino's Bar and Pizzeria
Quality Meats
Setai Fifth Avenue Hotel
Shake Shack
Spoon Catering and Tbsp Food Bar
Spoons Across America
The Spotted Pig
Stanton Social
Sweet Bliss
Tribeca Oven
Union Square Hospitality Group
The Water Club

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's about Time

Dave (left) and Nils finish cooking a racoon.

Our friends (Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology, and Nils Norén, vice president of culinary and pastry art) over at Cooking Issues, got a write up by Josh Oszersky in his weekly column, "Taste of America," on today. It's a great read.
Check it out: "Behold, the Unlikely Source of the Best Food Blog Ever."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let Culture Reign

The Corea Image Communication Institute (CICI) hosted an intensive Korean educational program for international culture delegates as preparation for the C20 Summit in Seoul, Korea, in November. In an immersive three-day program, luminaries such as Turkish designer Cemil Ipekci, French scholar Guy Sorman, and Italian fashion magnate Vittorio Missoni represented their G20 country in learning about Korean culture from activities planned to appeal to all the senses. Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder of The French Culinary Institute, attended as the representative from the United States.

Photo courtesy of Korean Times

Another culture delegate (representing the United Kingdom) also has ties to The FCI. Judy Joo, a Korean-American, attended the pastry arts program at the school in 2003 before launching her career in the UK. She has worked at restaurants such as The Fat Duck and Gordon Ramsey, as well as recently competing on the UK version of Iron Chef.

To read more about this event:

Monday, September 20, 2010


Nils Norén, vice president of culinary and pastry arts, and Dave Arnold, director of technology, set out for the StarChefs. com Fifth Annual International Chefs Congress, taking place today through Wednesday at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. This year, they will be showing off their beverage skills, mixing up an array of cocktails using their high-tech techniques. Watch the video below to see last year's demo.

Friday, September 17, 2010

In the Land of Hospitatlity

Adrian Theopulos
Classic Pastry Arts, 2006

If anyone has every told you that life is a journey, then you will appreciate the culinary path of Adrian Theopulos, artist turned pastry chef turned cake designer turned culinary wanderer and anthropological pilgrim. I guess you could even say this journey has come full-circle in a way.

Growing up Greek in a small town outside of Baltimore, one would assume that a love of food and cooking was inevitable, and Adrian has been into cook since she was a little girl, but aside from the holiday cooking she would do with her grandma, "no one in my family really cooks, although there are restaurateurs and grocers a few generations back." Her first knowledge and enthusiasm for cooking came, rather, from TV shows, watching and following the likes of Julia Child and Martin Yan.

After four years studying art in college and then another four years trying her hand at everything under the sun, "trying to find what I wanted to put my heart into,"Adrian decide to pursue pastry arts. She figured that she wouldn't want culinary to lose it's appeal by becoming a job, and it seemed even more logical because she could apply her art background, keeping both her passion for cooking and art alive. So, after studying at The French Culinary Institute in 2006, she took on an externship with Colette Peters and stayed on for (you guessed it) four years.

In truth, Adrian is a cook at heart and not a pastry chef, so she came to realize that this was not her landing spot and took another leap, this time from cake making for a little project of her own. Inspired by a friend who had been successful raising funds to travel around the world and interview people about community, Adrian thought it would be interesting to write a blog and eventually a cookbook about how people around the world define hospitality, manners, etiquette, and what they think is best for their guests. Thus, World Supper Adventure was hatched.

Home based in Brooklyn, Adrian has traveled as far as United Arab Emirates (Dubai) and India, where she has gathered recipes, gone to markets, and eaten food made by new friends. Adrian has a lot of interest in what she is doing, and many people have contacted her about hosting her and sharing their food culture with her. To help fund her project, Adrian is currently running a bid on Kickstarter, which has 13 days left to go. The cool thing is you can pledge any amount from $10 to $800 and along with being a proud supporter of the project you will receive something cool (spices from abroad, a copy of the completed cookbook) for your sponsorship.

Adrian doesn't plan on keeping all the profits on her hopeful cookbook to herself. Part of the proceeds will go toward funding other people's dream of going to culinary school, so they, too, can start their own food journey.

Watch Adrian's video and support the project!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Street Vendors Deserve Awards, Too

Dessert Finalists for the Sixth Annual Vendy Awards were announced yesterday, and now we have an alum in contention on both the sweet and the savory lists (the savory finalists were announced in August).

On the sweet side, Jerome Chang (2004) and fellow Le Cirque alums Susana Garcia and Vincent Jaoura. A pioneer in the dessert street truck scene, the original Dessert Truck has been followed up with a pastry shop/cafe, Dessert Truck Works, in the Lower East Side. Although best known for their chocolate bread pudding with either vanilla or bacon custard sauce, their other desserts, such as the warm brioche doughnuts, are also worth tucking into.

On the savory side, Oleg Voss (2002) and his brother, Gene, run Schnitzel & Things. Combining his business degree from NYU with his culinary skills, Oleg is turing out a delicious variety of schnitzels all dipped in panko and then deep-fried for a crispy, light texture. The traditional Wiener Schnitzel, made with veal, and the center-cut pork loin are two fan favorites. And the food truck won a "Rookie of the Year" Vendy in 2009.

The awards will be announced at an event on Saturday, September 25th on Governor's Island. All general admission tickets are sold out, but you can check back here to see how our two grads fared!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Any Given Monday

We like to talk a lot about what's fun at The FCI, but that's just because it's an easy target: There are lots of fun things going on at the school on any given day.

Take for instance today. Walking around the school late afternoon like I did, you can see students sitting in the amphitheater engrossed as they watch Dave Arnold, director of technology, explain the ins and outs of low temperature cooking in the two day Sous-Vide Intensive course for professionals.

Walk down the hall and around the corner to the bread kitchen and you will see instructors preparing the room for amateur students coming in for their first day of a week long study of artisanal breads, where baguettes, brioche, croissants, focaccia, ciabatta, and challah are just a few of the tasty doughs students will learn to make and bake.

And for something completely different, take the elevator up to the 4th floor reception, where you will find aspiring home chefs, weekend warriors, and entertainers, beaming as they sign in for their first day of Essentials of Fine Cooking, eager to master the arts of poaching, braising, grilling, stewing, and making marinades, sauces, and stocks, as well as learn how to make compound butters (not to mention the 25 recipes they will be adding to their repertoire).

As I finish my walk around the school, I can't help but feel like, well, like it's September. And like these eager students, I, too, am ready after my summer hiatus to pick up skillet and whisk and get serious about getting back into the kitchen.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Out of the Kitchen and Into the Fields

Georgia Pellegrini
Classic Culinary Arts, 2006
Craft of Food Writing

So, you may have heard the story before (fill in the blanks): big shot, big money ________(lawyer, trader, finance mogul) gets tired of _______ (long hours, no passion) job and makes a career shift to do what he/she loves most ________.

If you are like me, you have seen this scenario played out before. And I have noticed this is a common route to a food-related job, mostly, I think, because passion is at the core of anyone who falls into food as a career and at some point you can't suppress it. It has to be this way. Without a lot of external rewards (hard work, potentially tough working environment, little pay), whether you fell in love and followed your "destiny" since childhood or made the midstream move to follow your passion, you have to have some sort of internal driving love for what you do as compensation in order to survive the rigorous demands and too often little glory of a life in the kitchen or some such related food job.

But passion is a wonderful thing, and here at The FCI the halls are full of it. Students buoyantly discussing their idea for a new stock or talking about the first cake they designed or whatever cool new trick they are learning in class is an everyday experience. The enthusiasm is palpable and the excitement intoxicating. Watching a group of Pastry 2 students crowd around for a sous-vide demo just to see what happens to a marshmallows being vacuum packed is like watching a two-year-old take his first supervised foray at the beach into the edges of the ocean. Everything is new; everything is incredible; and everything wants to be tried.

And this is the path of Georgia Pellegrini, a smart, well-educated girl with finance job (Lehman Brothers to be precise) that realized she wanted to do something she loved instead of continuing to follow "the path of least resistance," as she puts it. This decision led her to leave her job to attend The FCI, where she studied and practiced and eventually worked her way into jobs at farm-to-table restaurants in the city such as Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern.

Growing up in the Hudson Valley (just north of the city) on her great grandfather's land—where her family still keeps chickens and honeybees—across from a state park, Georgia knew what it is like to live close to the land. And this experience has proven pivotal in her finding her own food calling. Her love of food lead her from the kitchens of New York City to Provence, where she worked at La Chassagnette, and her love of the land led her out of the kitchen and into the field. The more she met and spoke with the purveyors and foragers who supplied the restaurant where she worked, the more intrigued she became with what they were doing. With a past similar to hers, having left a "good" job for something they love and thinking outside the box about what they do and why, she was intrigued by what drove them to dedicate their lives to skillfully creating, growing, gathering. She soon was spending her days off in the fields and chronicling her experiences to online readers.
And as the story goes, a friend forwarded some of Georgia's writing to a literary agent, who saw book, and the rest is history. Now with her first book just out, a second one in the works, and a TV show up for options, Georgia is shoulder deep in what she loves: food traditions that connect one to the land. In her stand against techno flash and celebrity chefism, she has celebrated a select group of 16 food artisans from her travels in Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition and is now touring the country.

Writing a book, as Georgia puts it, " is a marathon. It takes extreme patience because there are a lot of moving parts and people to work with." But she figures her second one will be easier now that she has done it once. With her next book, Girl Hunter, due out next fall, she goes even deeper into the matter by looking at gathering food from Mother Nature herself, going through field and stream in search of food. The TV series follows suit. So, with rifle in hand and a belief that with interest in home canning, urban rooftop gardening and beekeeping, and chickens in suburban backyards abounding, the pendulum is swinging in the food world and people want to scale down and get closer to food production on a personal level, Georgia is ready to lead the movement and at least for her part shed some necessary bright lights on what she considers the true food heroes.

Food Heroes Badge

Thursday, September 02, 2010

More sugar fun...

This time we are heading out of the city and into the wild. Another evening pastry class recently made this polychromatic jungle scene. (Beware of snakes!)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

We Built This City

Some may dream of cities of gold, but for us here at The FCI, sugar is the object of our desire. Heated to extreme temperatures and then pulled, blown, and poured, liquid sugar is not for the feint of heart. It requires endurance (try holding very hot sugar in your hands!), patience, and precision (the pastry chef's byword). If the sugar is poured and molded, you pour it directly into your desired shape after it has been heated and colored. If you want to pull the sugar or blow it, then you must work the sugar with your hands to cool it down before it is cut into manageable chunks that look like large pieces of jewel-like pulled taffy (the old-fashioned kind). Placed under heat lamps to keep it pliable, the sugar is then stretched and worked until it is opaque. You have to work quickly because once the sugar cools too much, it breaks instead of stretching. Although sugar can be a challenge to master, it creates beautiful results. The rich colors and glass-like opacity are captivating.

One recent evening pastry class made famous destinations for their class project. We think everyone deserves an A.



New York City